Will Palmer ‘21
So, there we were, out of gas and low on water, sitting on the hood of the Jeep and munching on looted Slim Jims, when the Blue Checks found us. My traveling companion, Dennis, saw them first, picking out their advancing bikes from the asphalt mirage’s scorched liquid haze. He took a thoughtful bite of mechanically-separated chicken and pointed. “Might have an issue.”
I wiped the ‘Jim grease off my hands and grabbed the binoculars. The advancing bikers, pedaling insistently toward us on their fixed-gears, came into focus. “Yeah…that’s an issue, alright. Us driving with fossil fuel and eating processed meat products? We’d be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail if these guys didn’t find all three of those things extremely problematic.”
Dennis shrugged and took another bite of his ‘Jim. “Seems like everyone’s got beef these days. What can ya do.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’m not really concerned with changing their beliefs. I just want to get out of here with my rear end un-roasted,” I shot back, not particularly kindly.
“Well, it was either die of thirst by the side of the road, or get snatched by the Blue Checks and hopefully get some water out of the deal, so we can’t complain that much.”
“You’re forgetting what’s behind door number three,” I replied.
“The Bridge Trolls? I’m not forgetting them. I just prefer to not think of their existence. Say what you will about eating granola, at least the Blue Checks don’t spend their free time hammering out poorly-written manifestos that no one will ever read.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Woah. Look at you, getting all woke. Maybe we’re not screwed after all.” I gestured towards the approaching Blue Checks, now close enough to count without binoculars.
Dennis hopped down from the hood. “It’s not that I’m particularly woke, my man.” He punctuated his sentence by hocking spit onto the cracked asphalt, “I’m just not an asshole.”
“Well,” I mused, looking towards the sustainably-clad bikers racing towards us, “let’s hope they think so too.”
The Blue Checks pulled up in a cloud of dust, popped out their kickstands, and observed us for a moment. The closest of them, a tall, skeletal specimen, stepped away from their bike and ambled towards us, face unreadable under a dirty plastic Guy Fawkes mask (made in China). Fawkes stopped a few paces away and spoke in a toneless voice.
“You come here uninvited. Judgment is required.” They gestured to the other riders, who approached hesitantly. Fawkes addressed them with what might have been annoyance. “Do not fear them, comrades,” Fawkes said as he kicked the empty package of ‘Jims. “These two roamers feast upon vile sundries. They cannot withstand the might of our camaraderie!”
“Uh—hey,” Dennis interjected, “You can just put the bags on and take us to your place; we’ve done the whole abducted-by-marauders thing before.”
An hour or so later, Dennis and I had the obligatory kidnap-sacks yanked off our heads and found ourselves seated on wicker chairs in front of a wooden stage fronted by an intricately-wrought podium. Our hands remained bound by knotty hempen rope—I briefly wondered whether it was free trade—but we were relatively unconstrained otherwise. Fawkes stood behind us, watchful eyes glinting out from under the mask. Murmuring Blue Checks stood in rows all around.
A third prisoner, a short, rotund man who was sweating furiously and trying to shout through a pair of socks stuffed in his mouth, was seated to my left.
I turned and addressed him quietly, “Hey, buddy, the shouting won’t help. You know what’s going on, right? The whole big daily judgment show?”
Socks quieted down and looked at me questioningly. “I guess not,” I continued. “Just try not to say anything problematic.”
A hush fell over the crowd as an ominous figure stalked out of the darkness of the stage to the podium. Fawkes piped up from behind me, “Hail the Chief of Equals!”
“Hail!” parroted the serried ranks of Blue Checks.
The Chief of Equals, crowned with an immense, interlocking stack of antlers bedecked in dreamcatchers and “Coexist” stickers, raised her hands for quiet. The strands of “healing crystals” wrapped around her wrists clacked together in the fresh silence.
“Comrades of the Blue Check! We gather today to judge and punish those we find problematic.” The self-righteousness evident in her tone had me nervously thinking over my old social media profiles, even though they were all lost to the ether in the Crash. The electric ghosts of bad jokes have a way of haunting you, after all. I shook my head and turned my attention back to the proceeding at hand.
“Ye that are not verified shall be judged,” the Chief of Equals was barking. “And ye that are deemed problematic—yea, thou shalt be brought to the roast.” She stepped down from the platform and paced before us for a moment before turning abruptly, a rictus of a grin smeared onto her face. “Now,” she began, in a tone that notified all of us that this was definitely a trap, “What do you think of…Colin Kaepernick?” She looked to Dennis first.
“Uh. He’s got pretty decent stats…I think?” The Chief of Equals harrumphed and turned to me.
“He’s fine. I got no beef- er, problems.” My questioner glowered slightly at my faux pas and leaned closer. I could smell the expired Kombucha on her breath.
Socks, having had the footwear removed from his mouth, chimed in from my left, “I personally can’t stand the guy. Just un-American, if you ask me. Shameful.”
I turned to look at him, jaw fully dropped. “Bruh,” I said. “Kinda problematic.”
The Chief of Equals delivered a firm backhand to my face. “Watch the gendered language, roamer.” She stepped back to the podium and lifted her arms to the flock before her. “And yea, the aggressor reveals himself! Bring out the roaster!”
At the Chief of Equals’ order, two robed Blue Check acolytes rolled an iron cage onto the stage and opened the door. Inside were yesterday’s charred human remains. Socks’s eyes widened. He asked, to no one in particular, “What did that guy do? Not a Kap fan either?” The robed officiants turned to him.
“Who knows?” said the left.
“Who cares?” said the right.
“That was yesterday,” finished the left.
They dragged Socks into the cage and rolled it offstage. The congregated Blue Checks followed, leaving Dennis and I alone with Fawkes and the Chief of Equals.
Fawkes gestured to one of the departing attendants. “Bring the Macropods.”
“Big-foots?” I asked Dennis under my breath.
“I think big-feet is the preferred nomenclature,” he shot back.
The Chief of Equals, hearing us, turned with a grin both malevolent and delighted.
“Our Bailiffs. The guardians of this righteous court and the executors of the justice herein set forth. You might know them by a crasser name: Kangaroos.”
Fawkes turned to the four lumbering, misshapen figures—robed, cowled, and masked in the baroque livery of their byzantine order—which had just entered my peripheral vision, and gestured at us with a head tilt that conveyed unadulterated, ecstatic glee.
The Macropods were shrouded to the point of unrecognizability. I found myself wondering, as two of them seized each of my biceps with inhuman strength, whether they were in fact the marsupials their title proclaimed. The one grasping my right arm turned the hooded darkness which served as its face to receive the command of its master.
The Chief of Equals, with that same undisguised rapture that had been on display throughout the whole of this strange proceeding, pointed at me and Dennis, and pronounced our sentence: “To the soy mines with them!”
To be continued…